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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Woos World With $20Bln Iraqi Contracts

WASHINGTON -- Anxious to appear fair in doling out nearly $20 billion in work in Iraq, the U.S.-led authority there is holding conferences in Washington and London next week for prospective contractors.

Called "CPA Industry Days," the Coalition Provisional Authority's Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction Office is set to draw thousands of participants at its meetings in Washington on Nov. 19 and in London two days later.

"The conferences will allow both small and large industry to see where we are going and it will enhance the transparency of the contracting process," a U.S. defense official said Monday, adding that no new contracts would be announced.

President George W. Bush signed an $87.5 billion spending package for Iraq last week, and nearly $20 billion of that will go to reconstruction work in the country, most of which will be done by private contractors.

The contracting process in Iraq has been severely criticized, both abroad for giving much of the prime business only to U.S. firms and in Congress where allegations have been flying about cronyism and favoritism in handing out work.

The CPA said on its web site the conferences were in response to "Congressional interest" in the contracting process and were a first step in a series of measures aimed at making the process as transparent as possible.

The big contracts in Iraq so far have been given out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Agency for International Development, with prime work being done by U.S. engineering company Bechtel and by Halliburton, the oil services firm once run by Vice President Dick Cheney.

The newly-formed IIRO, headed by retired Admiral David Nash, will play an oversight function for work done by these U.S. government agencies, whose role is likely to be diminished in future reconstruction projects.

The defense official said the IIRO would deal with the selection of contracts and decide which projects would go to which U.S. agency.

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported the CPA planned to pick as few as three main contractors by Feb. 1 to handle as much as $15 billion of new public works projects in Iraq, most of which will be sub-contracted out.

This move would largely push to the sidelines the Army Corps of Engineers and USAID, said the report, adding that the Bush administration would also consider bids from foreign companies.